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Published in News on by Stephen Batchelder, Director of Claims Operations

As colder temperatures approach the Commonwealth and winter descends upon us, cities and towns are beginning pre-season planning to protect their municipal properties from freeze-up incidents associated with frozen water and sprinkler pipes, as well as roof damage/collapse due to heavy snow loads. While these types of incidents can be costly and time consuming to address, they can be greatly reduced with basic preventative steps, including the use of thermographic imaging cameras.

According to the International Risk Management Institute, “used properly, a thermal imaging camera can provide valuable information during moisture assessments, remediation oversight, energy audits, roof and electrical system inspections and water damage investigations.” All of this can help save building owners and municipalities money in the long run.

MIIA encourages its members and all municipalities to consider using the thermographic cameras. Each year there are a number of losses that could be prevented with some basic maintenance steps and these simple cameras can do a wonderful job to help prepare for that. Their main use is to alert facility managers to possible problem areas ahead of time.

According to a February 2013 article by Jennie Morton for, the very problems that can end up costing facility managers the most – poor insulation, roof leaks, and electrical malfunctions – are often the hardest to catch because they are hidden from view. Not only can these cameras catch problems that you literally can’t see, a thermal camera can decrease labor costs, keep workers safe, qualify some for insurance breaks, and increase the frequency of inspections you can perform. Morton also notes that thermal imagers can also provide leverage when you need approval for upgrades, “Instead of taking an incomprehensible spreadsheet of data you can show them a visual that instantly makes the problem clear.”

                                                                                                                                                     Most freeze-ups occur when buildings are closed for an extended period of time, particularly over school vacations and extended weekends. While cost-saving measures associated with energy usage is important, they must be carefully balanced against the total cost of a major water intrusion from a frozen pipe.If used properly by a trained individual, these thermographic cameras can aid in the identification of areas of inadequate insulation, cold spots, and other causes of pipe vulnerability. They can detect heat leaks and temperature changes in a building before a problem occurs. 

Pipes typically burst when the water inside them freezes and expands creating local pressures beyond what normal metal pipes can withstand. It’s usually when the pipes begin to warm back up that the built-up pressure within them releases at a rate beyond what the pipe can endure and the trouble begins.

It’s a problem that can be avoided if the following steps are taken in preparation for the winter months:

  • Keep thermostats set to 60° or higher.
  • Thermographic Inspection – Use thermographic imaging cameras to identify areas of inadequate insulation, cold spots, and other causes of pipe vulnerability.
  • Consider adding antifreeze to heating lines (natural/biodegradable antifreeze solutions are available).
  • Check univents to ensure that outside dampers are fully closed.
  • Keep heaters and vents clear to allow for greater circulation of warm air.
  • Set circulator pumps to run continuously.
  • Consider installing low temperature sensors/alarms to immediately alert you to potential freezing.
  • Check buildings daily and during building closures assign a competent person to inspect the building each day for potential problems including freeze-ups and vandalism.
  • Ensure pipes and walls are adequately insulated.

How to Prevent Roof Damage Due To Snow Load    

As facility managers walk their properties and complete their inspections, municipal buildings and schools with flat roofs are at particular risk for structural damage and/or collapse of roofs. The danger of roof overload is significantly increased when a flat roof abuts a pitched roof of higher elevation. Snow may slide off the pitched roof onto the lower flat roof, significantly increasing the snow load on the lower portion of the roof. Should a moderate to heavy rainfall occur before significant melting occurs, the danger from a roof overload or collapse is further heightened.

Roof collapse poses the risk of serious injury to occupants as well as the risk of serious property damage and continuity for municipal operations. To guard against these potentially serious risks, facility managers should take the following precautions:

  • Inspection – Visually inspect flat roof surfaces and remove as much snow as possible.  Take extra precautions not to damage the roof surface, especially rubber membrane roof surfaces.  Be sure all staff removing snow from roofs are wearing safety harnesses.
  • Maintenance – Be sure to inspect and clear all drains.  This will allow for proper run-off of water, which will lessen the weight of the snow load. 
  • Internal Inspection - Check inside buildings for any indication of roof weakness (Settling of ceilings, broken structural elements, leaks, etc.).
  • Professional Intervention - If you even suspect a problem, contact your Building Inspector for assistance.

With these simple steps, you can assure a safer winter season with reduced risks and avoidance of potential losses.

Side Bar 1 

Info. from Plumbing and Mechanical Magazine

What is Thermal imaging

Thermal Imaging is defined as technology that produces an image of invisible (to the human eye) infrared light emitted by objects due to the heat, or lack of heat, in the object. This is called its “thermal condition.”

How Thermal Imaging Can Help

Thermal imaging technology can display irregularities in the temperature distribution in minimal time, and in effect it is easy and straightforward to locate leaks and clogs in the piping. Thermal imaging cameras do not need light or to be in physical contact with the area or object it is identifying, a simple thermal image can represent damaged pipe work or hydronic heating blockages without having to physically be in the pipe or hydronic system.

Side Bar 2

MIIA provides grant support of up to $1500 to their members who are interested in buying thermography cameras. Members are encouraged to contact Assigned Risk Management reps for additional resources

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